On the day when the English Premier League opened play on the other side of the Atlantic, D.C. United traveled to British North American (the French speaking part) to take on the Montreal Impact for the second time in three weekends. Unlike their last meeting, when D.C. United put together its best league performance of the year by winning 3-1 over the Impact, United was a sloppier team this time around, but perhaps a more entertaining team as well.
At the opening whistle, D.C. United was sixes and sevens in the back (hat tip to EPL references), giving up three quality chances to Montreal in the first five minutes. Seriously, the good guys were lucky not to be down 0-1/2/3 (your choice) right at the outset. In just the first 40 seconds of play, Justin Mapp showed that he would be a handful all day streaking in from the right wing to get a quality shot in on Bill Hamid. In the 3', a bad Daniel Woolard header far up the field resulted in a quick Impact counterattack that found Andrés Romero on top of Hamid, who fortunately made himself big and delivered a quality save. Just two minutes later, Felipe Martins had another excellent chance.
D.C. United continued to look shaky in the back for long stretches of the first half, giving away too many turnovers which Montreal was happy to convert into quality chances (six of their eight first half shots were on goal). On offense, D.C. slowly got into a rhythm, and Dwayne De Rosario, Nick DeLeon, and Kyle Porter generated several interesting chances, but only Porter's shot in the 41' (sprung by Perry Kitchen) forced Impact keeper Troy Perkins into a challenging save.
Just as it looked like D.C. United would get off the field in the first half with a scoreless draw, United let a non-call on a possible Alessandro Nesta handball flummox them with several players slowing down to argue the call while the Impact counterattacked. In a nice piece of play that featured the three players who gave the D.C. defense such fits in the first half, Mapp again got free down the right side and put a low cross into the box. With Chris Korb and Woolard standing nearby, Felipe executed a textbook dummy that found Di Vaio standing free between the six yard box and the penalty spot. Dejan Jakovic wasn't marking close enough to offer any resistance, and Di Vaio beat Hamid with a nice shot.
In the second half, D.C. United looked the more energetic side, as Luis Silva asserted himself more all over the attack. In the 52' he had a shot that could have easily scored from the top of the six, and in the 64' he let loose one of his long-range bombs we've come to expect. While this shot was on frame, Perkins was able to keep the ball out of the goal.
Montreal was comfortable for most of the second half sitting back and absorbing D.C. United's pressure, while looking for the opportune moment on the counter. In the 60', Di Vaio was on the verge of breaking in on Hamid 1v1 from about 40 yards out when Woolard made an outstanding lunging tackle from behind that cleanly dispossessed the shocked Italian. Proving, however, that no good deed goes unpunished for D.C. United this year, just seconds later Woolard flubbed a back header from the top of the area toward Hamid that Di Vaio was quick to pounce on. Miraculously, Di Vaio missed the goal as Hamid did his best to cut down the angle.
In a sequence that is sure to be reviewed at Major League Soccer headquarters this coming week, in the 74' James Riley leaped into Justin Mapp in an aerial foul that was much more aggressive than we've come to expect from Riley. Although Riley was shown a yellow card, Montreal Impact coach Marco Schällibaum flew off the handle and jumped into the fray. While Ben Olsen appeared the much more composed coach during the ruckus, both coaches were thrown out of the match as expletives flew in at least one language I understand. Olsen egged the crowd on as he departed the field in a statement of his dismay at the turn of events.
Just a few minutes later, Conor Doyle (who had replaced Porter 10 minutes earlier) evened the game after a nice sequence between Kitchen and Silva that released Doyle for a beautiful finish into the far side netting as he angled in from the top left side of the box. Doyle is certainly staking claim to staying at D.C. United beyond this year.
Again, proving that no good deed outside of the US Open Cup can stand alone, D.C. United gave up a second goal to Di Vaio just two minutes later when an over the top pass from Patrice Bernier allowed Di Vaio to get in 1v1 against Jakovic in the D.C. box. Di Vaio quickly created space from Jakovic and put a nice shot over Hamid's shoulder to get the game winner.
As with so many games this season, it's hard to assess United in this game other than to say it's another loss. Losing on the road is not surprising for teams in MLS, and looking bad early on has been an unfortunate hallmark of this team this season (although that had gotten better of late). But, this team definitely generated lots of chances (15 shots, 6 on goal), and it was an entertaining (if at times sloppy) game to watch. In the end, however, defensive miscues and an inability to finish on the chances that were created meant that United returns to Washington still sitting on 13 points (3-17-4), and will take on another British North American team next Saturday when they play Toronto FC at RFK Stadium.
On the bright side, the Red-and-Black still have six more tune-up games until the season-defining US Open Cup final at Rio Tinto Stadium against Real Salt Lake on Oct. 1.
What's your take on D.C. United's loss to Montreal? Was this the most entertaining game you've seen from the good guys this year?